I live in Seattle, and it's green and blue everywhere. Number 12s fly from flag poles and adorn the bumpers of most every vehicle on our rain-soaked streets. Little kids wear Russell's jersey to bed and John Schneider is a household name. My city is head over heels.
Sure, Seattleites have become especially fanatical during our recent streak of success after decades (and decades) of mediocrity (or worse). We love to watch our team win. As a life-long sports fan, I've been caught up in the buzz of it all, even to the point of developing an AM sports radio addiction of sorts, and it has been fun to hear the post-game analysis after another Seahawks victory.
But behind the excitement and thrill of all this winning, there's a small corner in the back of my brain where a thought has taken up residence, quite stubbornly, and it's a thought that has managed to consistently temper my enthusiasm for football, even after some unbelievable Seahawks victories. The thought goes something like this: wow that's a lot of violence and sexism! You sure you want your kids to see you watching that???
Football is an inherently violent game, and its popularity would be diminished significantly if the NFL started playing flag football instead of tackle. I get it. Tackling, hitting, grabbing, pushing...it's all part of the game, and that's ok. Clearly, if you decide to play tackle football, you are accepting the possibility of being seriously injured, just as you would for any sport (curling aside, of course). However, the physical contact of the NFL crosses the line and becomes violence when it is glamorized, when the big hits that leave an opponent dazed are extracted from the overall narrative of a game and played and replayed over and over again on SportsCenter, on YouTube, on Sunday Night Football. Yes, players will occasionally get their "bell rung," their ACLs torn, their shoulders dislocated; all these are risks that athletes who choose to play football will need to accept in order to play a game they enjoy. And that's fine. But this kind of physical contact is too often converted into a vicarious violence for audience consumption. It's not necessarily the NFL's fault that networks and sponsors so often choose to interpret the sport of football in this way, but certainly the league is doing nothing to discourage it.
And then, there's the sexism. And it's really hard to avoid as a viewer. Watch any broadcast of an NFL football game, and almost every commercial break begins or ends with a shot of a cheerleader. Now, there's nothing sexist about having cheerleaders on the sidelines of a football game, except when the only cheerleaders are women at a game played exclusively by men, wearing clothes that are not suited for dancing (those boots?) or, often, the weather (ever seen a Sea Gal in a parka?). And when you read the attire requirements for trying out to be a Sea Gal, and when you realize that the panel of judges at Sea Gal auditions is composed mostly of people that admit they know nothing about dance (and are mostly men), it seems clear that the role of cheerleaders in an NFL game today is "fostering stereotypes of social roles based on sex," to quote Webster's definition of sexism.
Ok. All that being said, there is much to like about this sport and our team (and others, I'm sure). Our stout defense, the Legion of Boom, recently redefined its own acronym to stand for Love Our Brother after a team meeting in which Coach Carroll told his players that their slow start to the 2014 season was due to the fact that they weren't playing for one another, they weren't celebrating the success of their teammates; rather, they were looking for their own individual glory and the team was suffering as a result. I love this. And I love Carroll's insistence on focusing on what his team does best, instilling a belief that as long as they trust in their own abilities and simply play their own game, they will find success: focusing on the other team and worrying about what it may or may not do is counterproductive. And Kam Chancellor (above) is a perfect example of how inspiring it can be to throw yourself completely into the present moment and to bring all of your energy and focus to the task at hand.
Can physical contact be an integral part of sport without becoming violence? Can cheerleadering be an integral part of sport without sexism? I believe the answer to both questions is, yes, but we are not seeing much effort made by the NFL--or the networks that carry its games--to move in that direction, and this is why I can not, today, fully throw my support behind an NFL team, even when my own team is preparing to play in the Super Bowl. There's so much to love, but too much to regret. So I'm all in, almost.